Friday, July 12, 2013
Sitting is the new smoking. That's the gist of an article in this month's Runner's World magazine. All the hours spent parked on one's rear - whether it be on the computer, in the car, on the couch, or at the table - are implicated in an array of diseases, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, cancer, depression, even early death. And get this: the risks associated with sitting are the same for everyone, regardless of activity level.
And so we ask you, how many hours a week do you spend on your behind? You're likely sitting as you read this, but how much time do you estimate you spend planted on your ass in a given week?
If you are like the average American, you sit an average of 64 hours per week, or 9 hours a day. And this does not include the 7 or 8 hours of nightly sleep (which puts the total at closer to 20 hours per day). And active people (regular exercisers who log the recommended 2.5 hours of weekly exercise) are just as sedentary. In fact, fitness buffs are actually more inactive when not training, either because of increased fatigue after a workout which reduces movement, or from that feeling of complacency that comes after a gym session, which says I just broke my sweat for the day, now give me my (insert postworkout high calorie reward of your choice here) and let me just chill. In fact, on days you exercise you are likely 30 percent less active than on days you don't.
And spending so much time sitting down is really bad for you. Common sense would seem to support this, and an increasing body of scientific literature does as well. Women increase their risk for diabetes with every 2 hours they sit, and men who spend 6 hours sitting down are more likely to die of heart disease or diabetes than men who sit for half as long.
Which is why experts are calling it the "sitting disease" and comparing it to smoking, which is bad for you no matter how many hours you spend running, riding, or lifting weights.
What's so bad about sitting? A lot, it turns out. When you sit for prolonged periods (call it 20 minutes or more), blood pools in your lower extremities, reducing the flow to your brain of important chemicals, including those involved in mood. Sitting also turns off an important gene that prevents blood clotting and inflammation. What's more, the static position - back hunched, hips and knees flexed, head bent - is a postural nightmare that puts excessive stress on many major muscle groups, including your hip flexors, causes muscle imbalances in the glutes, hamstrings, and iliotibial band, and increases laxity in the ligaments of the spine, which can set you up for back pain.
We weren't meant to sit as long as we do, but society seems structured around the fat ass. Don't let that be you. Get up off your butt and move around. Make an effort every 20 minutes to stand up for at least a minute. But don't just stand there! Prolonged standing strains the legs and feet and is of no benefit to your circulation. The trick is to move. Walk around, do some squats or calf raises, do a hand stand. Heck, even lying on the floor beside your desk will help to move blood back to your heart and head and straighten and align your spine. Move as much as you can. Your body will thank you for it by keeping you around.